Scott Fowler: A coward’s noose backfired. Bubba Wallace’s NASCAR support stands stronger than ever

Tribune Content Agency

NASCAR provided a graceful response Monday to one of the most repugnant acts in the sport’s history, as hundreds of drivers and crewmen united behind Bubba Wallace and pushed his car to the front of the line in a touching pre-race ceremony at Talladega.

But the noose left in Wallace’s garage Sunday in Talladega, Ala., also showcased how far NASCAR — and our society — still has to go. That noose is a reminder to everyone that issuing a few progressive-sounding statements just doesn’t cut it. Racism is an insidious cancer, one that has to be stamped out by action and not words.

That this happened at all was shocking. How did someone get into a restricted NASCAR Cup area Sunday in Talladega, Alabama? How did they put noose in the garage of Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s highest level and the driver who led the charge to ban the Confederate flag from all NASCAR properties earlier this month?

The noose placement has the feel of an inside job — somebody had access to the garage, and they took advantage of that to send a message of hate. The FBI is investigating.

Wallace issued a statement on Twitter shortly after the incident, saying in part: “As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you.’ This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”

How many people could have gotten into that garage Sunday? Said NASCAR president Steve Phelps on Monday: “We have a very small number of people that are in the footprint.”

That sounds promising. So they better catch the guy — and yes, I’m assuming it’s a guy — because the last thing NASCAR needs is for one of the various conspiracy theories floating out there on social media to gain any oxygen.

Phelps tried to snuff out one of them Monday, saying that the speculation on social media that the placement of the noose was somehow staged as a publicity stunt “personally offends me.”

We will soon know who did it. The odds are that it will be someone you never heard of.

There were undoubtedly cameras in the area, given the expensive equipment in every NASCAR garage, although maybe not enough of them (Phelps wouldn’t say how many).

But a guy who places a noose surely isn’t a master criminal. He doesn’t traffic in subtlety. Surely he told someone. Surely someone else knows and the FBI and NASCAR will eventually figure it out.

Then that person will, at the least, be banned from NASCAR. Maybe they’ll face criminal charges, too.

“The sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR,” said Richard Petty, the owner of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro that Wallace drives.

Petty, 82, hadn’t been traveling to NASCAR races since they resumed in mid-May after a two-month break due to COVID-19. But he flew to Alabama for this one to stand beside his driver. It was Petty who patted Wallace on the back and hugged him following the pre-race march as Wallace buried his head in his hands, overcome by emotion.

Petty was just one of Wallace’s many high-profile supporters. LeBron James offered his support to Wallace on Twitter. The hashtag #IStandWithBubba was stenciled into the Talladega infield. The governor of Alabama pointed out Wallace is from Mobile and apologized on behalf of everyone in the state “for the hurt this has caused” and “the mark this leaves.”

NASCAR came together quickly Monday, united by a crisis understood by everyone. And kudos to the organization for releasing the information about the noose Sunday night, rather than trying to bury the controversy quietly.

That noose wasn’t just a danger to Wallace. That noose was a danger to an entire sport trying to change its image.

“I cannot believe the hate that someone can have in their heart to just put a device that kills people in someone’s garage because of the color of his skin or what he stands for,” driver Joey Logano said on Twitter.

Yes, but….

I can believe it.

Racism was a nasty undercurrent for decades in NASCAR. Confederate flags flew freely on the campers of fans in the infield. Black drivers faced nearly insurmountable obstacles. For years, the sports’ unofficial soundtrack may as well have been “Dixie.”

NASCAR has been trying hard for the past couple of months to join us in the 21st century. And so there was always going to be some backlash. The flag-flying in Alabama, for instance, was somewhat predictable.

A few hours before the noose was discovered, Confederate flags were flying on pickup trucks outside the speedway, driving around and wanting to be noticed. Somebody else rented a plane to fly over the track with a big Confederate flag and a confusing message that read “Defund NASCAR.”

And then came the noose, discovered not by Wallace but by a member of the No. 43 crew. Wallace never saw the noose and didn’t even know about it until Phelps, the sport’s progressive president, told him about it.

Wallace now has his whole sport united behind him, even more than before.

And the FBI is coming for that unnamed coward who sneaked into the No. 43 garage and did something despicable. The noose backfired. Whatever that guy was hoping for, it didn’t work.


©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.